If it weren’t for recent events, a lecture from the former Vice President of the United States, Al Gore, could easily have been an exercise in repetition. After all, the environment has been Gore’s topic du jour for nearly half a decade.
When he visited California State University Monterey Bay to appear in the fourth and final installment of the Panetta Institute Lecture Series, a handful of other UC Santa Cruz students and I were fortunate enough to represent UCSC in the audience amidst a sea of high school and college students from the surrounding counties.
The Panetta Institute, located on CSUMB’s campus, has historically partnered with the university to bring in guest speakers and implement programs that encourage involvement in public policy.
Although by now we’re all familiar with Gore’s 2006 documentary and accompanying book, “An Inconvenient Truth,” anyone who predicted that Gore’s approach to the issues of global warming and climate change would be stale four years later was proven incorrect. The issues he addressed were made more relevant than ever by the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Of the 90 million tons of CO2 we put out daily, 30 million are absorbed by the ocean, causing marine acidity to rise and the wildlife to dwindle. The recent oil spill has had an uncannily similar effect on the ecosystem.
“Here’s one difference between the oil spill and the CO2 spill,” Gore said. “Oil you can see … CO2 is invisible.”
Although an unfortunate and lasting incident, the oil spill serves as a useful analogy for the other environmental crises facing the world. Gore referred to it several times to explain the grave consequences that will arise from denying the severity of these issues.
“That much pollution is being pumped into the atmosphere every three seconds,” Gore said. “They told us it was safe to drill into the ocean. They were wrong about the Gulf; they’re wrong about this. [Global warming] masquerades as an abstraction … gives us the illusion that we have the luxury of time.”
He referred to the oil drilling platform responsible for the spill as a “rat’s nest,” and emphasized that the nest ought to be cleaned out, alluding to “corruption in that part of the government.”
Gore also spoke about multibillion-dollar corporations that try to prevent people from demanding change, comparing companies that deny the validity of global warming and climate change with the pro-smoking ad campaigns of the 1950s.
“The response [to the dangers of smoking] was delayed almost 40 years by creating doubt,” Gore said.
I was pleased to see a famous politician and public figure speak so candidly about an issue — any issue — and indeed, Gore pulled no punches. Judging by the raucous applause the former Vice President received every 30 seconds or so, the rest of the audience was equally enthused.
In response to the question of where students should go to seek out the hard facts, Gore recommended the National Academy of Science of any country, professional scientific societies, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“Or,” he joked, “you can listen to Rush Limbaugh. It’s your choice.”
Since he was addressing students — who are in the position of being educated as well as educating themselves and others — Gore emphasized the importance of what he called “sorting through the noise” when it comes to the state of the environment and those who deny the reality of global warming. This was the component of his lecture that I found most profound and most memorable. I would guess that my peers felt the same way.
“Learn about it,” he said. “Empower yourselves with knowledge … If you decide you want to make a difference, you can. You really can.”
For what may have been the hundredth time, the audience broke out into applause again. Whether it was because we were relieved we hadn’t been told the best thing we could do to save our planet was to buy energy-efficient light bulbs, or because it just seemed like the appropriate thing to do, we all clapped over and over again.
There was an energy that pervaded the auditorium, emanating from the applauding hands of the students and the ardor in the former Vice President’s eyes. It hinted at the passion we all have toward our world, a force that might prove to be the ultimate source of alternative energy.